Once again, rumors are streaming in that Obama has a vendetta against religion. I’ll give it to them: At least this time they have a specific policy in mind, as opposed to the lack of any serious action that prompted Rick Perry to rail against the president’s “war on religion.” But the policy they’re in opposition to is common sense and enjoys widespread support among Americans of all religious persuasions.
For those of you that haven’t heard yet, prepare to be elated. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, health insurance companies will now be required to full cover contraception as part of the “preventive services” required to be free of charge in all plans. That’s right: free birth control for all American citizens. Finally, contraception will be recognized as the essential medication it is—providing women with greater autonomy in controlling their bodies, and helping to curb the unwanted pregnancies that so often result in greater crime and poverty in America’s most underprivileged areas. And if abortions are something you personally object to, it’ll definitely cut down on the number performed each year.
But of course, Catholic bishops and Republican politicians have railed against this new requirement, claiming it infringes on religious liberty. (The Catholic Church officially considers most effective methods of contraception to be morally wrong.) Fair enough. In response, the administration has amended the rule as a compromise: Religiously affiliated or faith-based institutions that object to paying for this coverage on religious grounds are exempted. There was already an exemption for churches, synagogues and mosques, but the rule as amended also exempts church-affiliated employers such as hospitals and universities to opt out as well. Sorry, Georgetown students.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has declared its fight against the rule will continue with “no less vigor, no less sense of urgency” than before the compromise. This is certain to undermine their libertarian rhetoric — since it is becoming increasingly clear that their opposition is not to any perceived infringement of religious liberty, but to the expansion of birth control availability.
To understand why, let’s look at how Americans really feel about contraception and healthcare insurance. One poll showed that 55 percent of Americans favor free contraception coverage in all health plans, while 58 percent of Catholics approved. And while the specific rule prior to compromise only garnered a 49 percent plurality (meaning no other position got as large a proportion of support), 52 percent of Catholics supported it — even if it meant requiring Catholic institutions to support this coverage. A Fox News poll conducted last week found even greater support for contraception coverage in employer health plans: 61 percent of Americans, and two-thirds of women. And while this figure seems too good to be true, Andrew Sullivan of The Daily Beast claims that studies indicate up to 98 percent of Catholic women approve of birth control and have used it.
Whether or not the compromise was necessary to respect these institutions’ religious liberties, this also represents a fairly deft political move on Obama’s part: He’s once again forcing his opponents so far to the right as to make them appear ridiculous. Americans support this coverage. Catholics support this coverage. The only people who don’t support it are politicians and organizations on the right, and there’s a political price to be paid for that.
— Daily Nexus liberal columnist Geoffrey Bell